Sunday, December 23, 2012

Rogers Park Telephone Exchange, 1622 W. Pratt

The first telephone exchange in Rogers Park was established in 1903 in a rented space at the northwest corner of Lunt and Clark (now an immigration attorney's office).  Soon increasing demand and specialized equipment required a purpose-built structure. The Chicago Telephone Company contracted with the architecture firm of Holabird and Roche, which had already designed their buildings downtown and many smaller neighborhood exchanges.  Good examples of these remain throughout Chicago.

New technology has a tendency to make people uncomfortable.  One way to offset this discomfort is to create a traditional image to reassure the public.  Holabird and Roche was masterful at creating sturdy classical designs.  The Rogers Park Exchange is a simplified version of the Georgian Revival style.  And what could be less intimating than Georgian Revival? 

The building itself is reinforced concrete construction with Colonial brick and white Bedford stone trim.  Originally the entrance vestibule was pink Tennessee marble, but I haven't yet peered inside to find out if it's still there.  Note the addition of a fourth floor, along with substantial rear additions.  This was a part of the original design intent, and the foundation was built to accommodate another floor as needed.  The stone cornice was rebuilt, but it looks like it lost some detail in the process.

Adapted from a Google Aerial Photo
The L-shaped area emphasized in red is the original footprint of the building.  The area in blue was added in 1940.  The fire insurance maps are a bit vague on when the original portion received the additional floor, but judging from historic aerial photos it probably also happened in 1940.  In 1960 an additional floor was added to the blue portion, raising it from two stories to three.

The work force consisted of three supervisors, one clerk, one matron, and forty-nine operators.  Yes, that's right.  Matron.  And both day and night chief operators were women.  And those forty-nine operators?   Probably  young women.  At the turn of the century switchboard operator joined teacher and nurse as an acceptable occupation for middle-class women.  But there was an ongoing discomfort about the thought of professional young women working and living in the big city on their own.  The fear was that it would be too easy for these women to stray into... well... prostitution and drugs?  Several organizations opened boarding houses for working women, where they could enjoy communal activities and close supervision.  It's telling that the president of the Rogers Park Women's Club, Mrs. E.A. King, was in attendance for the opening ceremony. 

Read about the exciting 1914 ribbon-cutting ceremony here.

And I can't recommend enough Robert Bruegmann's book about Holabird and Roche, "The Architects and the City."

Also, read Jeanne Catherine Lawrence's, "Chicago's Eleanor Clubs: Housing Working Women in the Early Twentieth Century."

And just for fun, read "Wicked Nell:  A Gay Girl of the Town." (1878)

1 comment:

  1. In the 1980s a large number of 3" or 4" conduits were installed on the alley side going from the basement to the fourth floor. Then they were covered by heavy metal siding. They were for the electronic switching system [ESS].
    A phone company repairman told me that most of the building is empty now as the ESSs are much smaller than the original Strowger switches.